Describing diversity

Issued : 26 June 2020

In this special guest post, Pam Brown lays out how to define diversity, and the importance of language. 

Armed with the millennial generation’s defining traits — Web savvy, boundless confidence and social networks that extend online and off, I thought I had understood the issues surrounding multi- generational work teams.  However, a conversation with my neighbours 15- year old son Conor and his friends raised the spectrum of Generation Z who are hot on the heels of the Millennial Generation who appear to be forging a political identity all of their own.  

Having been to previous Pride Events, our discussion turned to the LGBT agenda where it seems that generation Z is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question isn’t whom they love, but who they are — that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation.  

“L.G.B.T.” includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender —but the new vanguard wants a broader, more inclusive abbreviation.   

Part of the solution has been to add more letters; the emerging rubric is “L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.,” which stands for different things, depending on whom you ask.  

“Q” can mean “questioning” or “queer,” an umbrella term itself, formerly derogatory before it was appropriated by gay activists in the 1990s. “I” is for “intersex,” someone whose anatomy is not exclusively male or female. And “A” stands for “ally” (a friend of the cause) or “asexual,” characterised by the absence of sexual attraction.  

 The term is also gaining traction on social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr, where posts tagged with “LGBTQIA” suggest a younger, more modern outlook than posts that are labelled “LGTB.”  

As Conor said to me when you see terms like L.G.B.T.Q.I.A., “it’s because people are seeing all the things that fall out of the binary and demanding that a more inclusive name come into being”.  

Then Conor rattled off a list of gender identities, many culled from Wikipedia. “We have our lesbians, our gays,” he said, before adding, “bisexual, transsexual, queer, homosexual, and asexual.” He took a breath and continued. “Pansexual. Omni sexual. Trisexual. Agender. Bi-gender. Third gender. Transgender. Transvestite. Intersexual. Two-spirit. Hijra. Polyamorous, Cisgender, Gender fluid.” In response to this growing trend some universities in the USA allow students to register their preferred pronouns in the university computer systems and DCU has installed gender neutral toilets at the university.  

From a business perspective, it’s becoming more obvious that companies that want to reach teenage and Generation Z consumers (and talent) have to show they “get it.”   

Facebook made it official last February when it told the world that limiting binary gendered options is a thing of the past and added a third option to its standard male and female ones: custom.   

From a drop-down menu, users can select from 58 different identities, including agender, androgyne, gender fluid, trans female, trans male, trans person, cisgender, and two-spirit. (Each term refers to a subtle variation of gender and sexual identity and expression.) For users who don’t fit into the 58 pre-populated list of gender identities, Facebook offers a 59th option: “fill in the blank.”  

Four months after expanding its gender list in the US., the social media giant unrolled 70 custom gender options for its Irish and UK users, including intersex man, intersex woman, and asexual as well as allow users to choose either a female, male, or gender neutral pronouns.  

The U.K. have now added the gender neutral title, Mx (which was also recently added to Oxford English Dictionary alongside the standard choices of Miss, Ms., Mrs., or Mr. Interestingly Mx still comes up as a spelling error on spell check.  

Notably, a number of government forms and some banks allow for the term Mx.  

We have an interesting time ahead. I wonder what being a champion for the LGBTQ+ community will look like in the future or what the world of diversity analytics will offer.   


Pam Brown is Head of Diversity & Inclusion West Midland Ambulance Service and Associate Consultant for Irish Centre for Diversity